Presentation to English Language School Board

At the regular monthly meeting of the English Language School Board held November 24, 2015 at Stratford Board Office, Peter Rukavina, President, PEI Home and School Federation made the following remarks in a presentation to the Official Trustee:

Trustee Hood, Superintendent Fleet, Board staff,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this evening on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation.  We wanted to take a few minutes to update the Board on our current projects and concerns.

Provincial School Lunch Program

This April our members unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a Provincial School Lunch Program, under which every student in every school on the Island would be provided with a healthy lunch at no cost.

To update the board on progress toward implementation of this lunch program since that resolution was adopted:

In June we held a summit meeting of those working in education, food, health, agriculture and the fishery with an eye to charting the broad challenges ahead of us. The meeting was well-attended and all those present expressed enthusiasm for the work ahead.

In August the PEI Home and School Federation became a signatory to the Coalition for Healthy School Food, joining likeminded organizations across the country in an effort to seek federal cost-sharing for a Universal Healthy School Food Program.
In September we hired a new Education & Engagement Coordinator, Ghislaine O’Hanley. One of Ghislaine’s roles will be to work to ensure that our policy resolutions move forward, and she will be instrumental in the coordination of the lunch program project.
In November Ghislaine, along with our board Secretary, Lisa MacDougall, attended the National School Food Conference in Montreal, an invaluable opportunity to profit from the experience of those in other jurisdictions who have implemented, or are planning, school food programs. They returned to the Island with a confirmation that a Provincial School Lunch Program for PEI is possible, and that we will have the cooperation of partners across the country in making it happen.

In the weeks to come we will be organizing a more formal Working Group to manage the next stage of planning for this project, and we will seek representation from the Board for this group.  We will continue to keep the Board updated on the progress of this project.

Non-interference with School Food Programs

Let me remain with the topic of food for another moment.

In every school in this Board there are students arriving in the morning without having eaten breakfast, and, often as much, without any lunch. Through the Herculean efforts of administrators, teachers, staff, parents & guardians, and community volunteers running breakfast programs, lunch programs, and school food cupboards, many of these students are able to get fed when they otherwise wouldn’t.

This fall we’ve received troubling reports that, on occasion, school administrators are being called to task by Board staff, on behalf of vendors contracted to operate school cafeterias, with a suggestion that these school and community efforts interfere with the vendors’ profitability.

We ask that the Board instruct its staff to suspend this kind of communication to school administrators. Ensuring students are fed is a time-consuming and stressful enough endeavour; it is unreasonable for administrators to be required to defend the efforts of their school communities in this regard; these programs should be celebrated, not called into question.  If additional focus should go anywhere, it should be on solving the larger food security issues that give rise to the need for these programs in the first place.
Keep the Trains Running on Time

When Premier MacLauchlan and Minister Perry announced the changes to education governance earlier this month, they took great pains to reassure all those involved in education that the implementation of these changes would not cause the day to day progress of the education system to come to a halt.

We were pleased by this reassurance, especially given that a primary focus of the English Language School Board has, understandably but frustratingly, been on amalgamating the policies of the Eastern and Western boards, something that has slowed the pace of policy development otherwise.

In this light, we were pleased that the Board adopted the School Change Policy at its last meeting, and pleased that, as part of the motion wherein it was adopted, Board staff were instructed to conduct an additional round of consultations about the policy, to ensure the broadest possible feedback was obtained and incorporated.

While the changes to education governance incorporate a temporary moratorium on school closures, there was no suggestion that planning for other changes – school attendance zone boundary changes, school configuration changes, for example – would need to stop, and we want to express our commitment to working with the Board during this transition period to ensure that work on these issues continues apace.

We would also request that other issues where Home and School associations work closely with Board staff – the development of and reporting on School Effectiveness Plans, regular consultation on common assessment results, consideration of PEI Home and School Federation policy resolutions, consultations with home and schools about Progress Monitoring and Career Education, to name a few – continue, to the greatest extent possible, undisturbed by the ongoing changes, and we offer our commitment to helping to make that happen.

Thank you to Trustees

As the days of elected school boards on Prince Edward Island draw to a close, on behalf of our members in schools across Prince Edward Island, we want to take a moment to thank those that served as school trustees in the various school boards that have founded and operated Island schools for more than 160 years.  

The time, effort, and enthusiasm for the transformative power of public education contributed by the thousands of Islanders who served as trustees over the years is something we should all keep in mind as we chart a new course forward.

We want to pay particular tribute to the final trustees of this English Language School Board: to Fred, Jeffrey, Jason, Gary, Cindy, David, Kent, Sheri, Colleen, June, Lori and Janice, thank you for your commitment to education during your time as trustees. You have been great friends of home and school, and your contributions to public education have been important and valuable.

And, of course, thank you to Trustee Hood, the very final trustee, for generously agreeing to come out of retirement to ensure that the transition of the board into Public Schools Branch goes smoothly.

Let me close with this item from The Guardian, January 24, 1899:

The half yearly school examinations of the Cable Head School was held on Friday the 30th of December before the trustees and parents. The scholars were examined by the trustees and teacher, Miss Ada McPherson, and gave satisfaction to all. The trustees afterwards congratulated Miss McPherson on the good work done by her, and her kindness to the scholars in the past year. The proceedings were brought to a close by the awards of prizes, etc.

Let us all continue in that spirit, and never forget that public education on Prince Edward Island was, and continues to be, a collaborative project.

Thank you.

Response from Trustee Hood

In response to our presentation, Trustee Hood sent PEIHSF a letter of reply on December 9, 2015 that reads as follows:

Thank you for taking time to attend the November 24, 2015 meeting of the English Language School Board, and for your presentation on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation. The Board appreciates the PEI Home and School Federation's interest and participation in education.

I was glad to hear about your progress toward implementation of a Provincial School Lunch Program, and look forward to hearing more about the establishment of your formal working group for this project.

The English Language School Board has a contractual agreement with the Compass Group to provide cafeteria services at many schools throughout our district District office staff are responsible for the administration of the contract and work with all parties involved to resolve issues and foster good communication District office staff often serve as a conduit between schools and the service provider as issues arise.

In response to your query regarding the rezoning of schools in the English Language School Board, I am able to inform you that preliminary discussions have been held with the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture on that matter.

As per the Superintendent's initiative, principals will continue to report to their parent advisory groups and engage them in a discussion on the progress of student achievement and the achievement of identified school goals, as per School Effectiveness Plans The Board will continue with "business as usual" until system-wide changes are implemented.

I appreciate your offer of commitment on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation to support the Board during this transition towards the new education governance model, and I thank you for your efforts on behalf of all students in Prince Edward Island.